The amazing Nimrod's Castle
Nimrod’s Castle is not any old boring castle. It is one of the largest and most impressive castles in the Middle East. It is surrounded by beautiful scenery. Its long narrow structure fits snugly into the topography. being perched between the important Wadi Nakeb to its south and Wadi Govta to the north. The dongon (keep) occupies the top quarter of the fortress and was the first part to be built. The castle's topography, walls and 21 towers made this it almost impregnable. In sum, it’s an impressive site that is worthy of a visit.
Why would anyone build a castle in this isolated part of the country?
Why did the Ayyubid dynasty build a fortress in this isolated part of the Golan? The answer is that In 1187 CE, Salah a-Din, who commanded the Ayyubid army, defeated the Crusader army at Karnei Hittin, and he subsequently systematically destroyed their fortresses. However, a Crusader kingdom still remained along the coast, and following their defeat the Christians began mobilizing for further Crusades. The valley Wadi Nakeb, which is below the fortress, extends from the Upper Hula Valley and functioned as an important highway between Sidon in Lebanon and Damascus in Syria. This citadel was therefore built in 1227 to prevent the Crusaders from attacking Damascus. It was completed within 3 years. In 1253, the Crusaders attempted to conquer the fortress but were unsuccessful. Two decades later the castle was handed over by the Ayyubids to the Mongols who had invaded Syria and Palestine from Central Asia.
The progress of the Mongols was stopped by the Mamelukes at the Battle of Ein Jalud, and the Mameluke commander Baybars appointed himself sultan. Bilik, his appointed governor, reconstructed this fortress, including its semicircular towers, from 1260 to 1277. When the Mamelukes finally ejected the Crusaders from the Holy Land at the end of the 13th century, this castle lost its importance and was abandoned.
Directions: Enter “Nimrod” into Waze and click on “Nimrod Fortress National Park.” There is a large parking lot just before the main gate of the fortress. A hut sells snacks and hot and cold drinks. There is no picnic area.
Public transport: There is an infrequent bus from Kiryat Shemona to אנדרטת סיירת אגוז. From here it is 1.9 Km/23-minute walk to the fortress.
Admission: This is a site of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. It is open in the summer from 8.00 am to 5.00 pm Sunday to Thursday and on Saturday, and on Friday and holiday eves from 8.00 am to 4.00 pm. In the winter it closes 1 hour earlier. Entrance to the park is up to 1 hour before closing time. There is an admission fee. Allow at least 2 hours for viewing this site. The park phone number is 04-694 9277. This is their website.
Difficulty: The fortress is on an incline and there is quite a lot of step-climbing. Exploring some of the towers can also involve steps.
EXPLORING THE CASTLE
Although the fortress is large and a bit complicated, just follow the green arrows and with the aid of the brochure (also available in English) you will not get lost.
The fortress is entered from the Northwestern Tower and Gate (#1) adjacent to the Parking Lot. It was constructed by the Ayyubids, although the tower was expanded by the Mamelukes, and they added two further stories. They also made an opening in the ground floor leading to a cistern.
The green arrows will lead you from the tower into the courtyard. There you will see Baybars Inscription, which dates from 1275 CE.
Baybars was the commander of the Mameluke forces and self-appointed Sultan. His symbol was a lion sculpted in stone, as shown here.
Head to the Southwestern Tower (#5) and climb to its top. There is a wonderful view over Wadi Nakeb from the roof. There is a recording, which can also be heard in English, about the view and its significance.
Now walk towards the keep at the far east of the fortress, following the green arrows. You will pass a reservoir, which was fed by rainwater. Also, a public fountain by its side, which was fed from the reservoir.
The fountain adjacent to the reservoir.
The dugon or keep was a free-standing part of the fortress, and was intended to be a section of the fortress that could continue to be defended should the rest of the fortress be overrun. It was the first section of the fortress to be built by the Ayyubids.
From the dongon/keep one has a superb view of Mount Hermon, the Golan Heights and the Hula Valley.
On the return part of the walk, you will turn right some distance after the Moat, but before the Beautiful Tower, and this point is indicated by a sign. This path will take you towards the Northern Tower and will simplify your return to the parking lot.
The Northern Tower (#13) was also built by Baybars. It overlooks Wadi Govta and from its top you can see Mount Hermon and Mount Dov. Descend into the tower, which is also a way to exit the fortress. This tower is thought to have been used as a prison during the 15th century and there are square holes in the center of the room. Go through the secret passage which ends in an opening in the northern wall. This functioned as a secret exit from the fortress and would have been hidden by a pile of rocks.
The secret exit from the Northern Tower. It will take you to the Parking Lot.
The path along the western wall will lead you back to the parking lot.